When I told Roseanne Barr that I was going back on stage, she said, "Are you gonna tell fart jokes and talk about your wiener? You better, or else nobody's gonna laugh or know what the hell you're talking about." Like me, Roseanne disdains what mainstream stand up's become. Judd Apatow dramatized this in Funny People, where older comic Adam Sandler gives protégé Seth Rogen lessons in effective coarseness. So conceptually I was ready for the bottom line.
Once in the club, however, the collective crude aggression overwhelmed me for a moment. As regulars know, I have no problem with lowbrow or crass material, so long as it fits or accentuates the overall piece. But last night I weathered a torrent of raw vulgar jokes and one-liners, aimed to push obvious audience buttons. Some of it was funny, a clever line occasionally popping up. But that's just the law of averages. Overall, it was dick prick pussy cunt cocksucker motherfucker blowjob handjob gay fag fare.
To be fair, these comics were young and largely unpolished, their energy bridging the silence when a bit flopped. I was easily 20-plus years older than most of them, pushing 30 with a few more. When I walked in and sat at the comics' table, waiting to hear the line up, they glared at me with that competitive comedy expression I hadn't seen in some time. But it came roaring back in an instant. They all knew each other, busting balls and mocking looks, and here was some strange old man, wanting in on the mix.
My life experience served me well. As a younger comic, I too was aggressive and arrogant, icing out anyone I didn't think worth my time. Now I was all smiles, initiating chats with the comics next to me. A couple wanted to know if this was my first time performing stand up. "God no," I replied. "I've done tons of stand up. But it's been a long time. I wanna knock off some rust and move in a different direction."
"Where did you play?" asked the Black comic sitting across from me.
"Around. Here and there. You know." I didn't want to get too explicit about my past or my plans.
"No. I haven't played Detroit."
The young woman next to me chimed in. "Then where?"
Now I had four comics staring at me, waiting for an answer.
"New York, LA, a little in Chicago."
"New York?!" said the kid across from me, sitting up. "You played New York
"Yeah. It was ages ago. Some of those clubs don't exist anymore."
They all looked puzzled, but didn't press me. A tall white guy confessed, "This is my first time. I'm really nervous."
"That's perfectly natural," I told him.
"What if I tank?"
"Hey man, it's only comedy. You're on stage, not the audience. You're in control. You're just sharing concepts. Play around with it."
He relaxed a little, until his name was called. He then stiffened, trudged to the stage and plowed through his set. He got a few laughs, but his nervousness showed. Once the audience sees that, you're fucked. He came off, sat and shook his head. He left soon after.
It can only get better, son. Theoretically.
By the time my name was called, the audience grew to roughly thirty people. Not bad for a Wednesday night, especially after a blizzard. I liked the intimacy of it. Problem was, so many quickly-told dick jokes preceded me, establishing a ragged energy that I think the audience expected, and for the most part welcomed. My little set was nothing like that. I was a tad anxious as the emcee introduced me, but once I hit the stage, felt the lights, adjusted the mike stand, said hello to the crowd, I was back in the moment, a sensation I hadn't experienced in 25 years. Right then I knew that coming back was the correct decision.
As for my set, well, it clearly wasn't what the audience anticipated. My energy was slower, subtler, a shift that forced the room to adjust. Some of them did, many others didn't. But they didn't heckle or comment. I had their full attention. I also had complete confidence in my material, which not only was scripted, but much different from the other comics.
I kept it brief. I wanted merely to break the ice, get my stage footing back. Nothing more. My bit about being horrified that my teen son is straight got laughs in the right places, but it was hesitant laughter, either because they weren't sure if it was funny, or that it took an extra beat for the lines to sink in. I wasn't slapping their faces with my dick, and this meant they had to focus on the premise. I was also rusty in places, and could have stretched the bit with more animated takes. I may have been too low key. Something to work on and polish. That's what these local sets are all about.
I closed with my Sarah Palin love rant, which perked up the audience as my energy increased. When I'm in character, everything melts away and I ride that inner rhythm. This received the right laughs as well, though a few patrons were put off by my wanting to fuck Palin inside a dying moose. I ended my set and returned to the table.
The young woman said she loved the material, then went up and talked about the perils of dating. The rest of the comics looked at me from a distance. I couldn't fully read their expressions, but they seemed confused and wary. I was not one of them. I didn't bomb, knew my shit, was secure in my skin -- well, as secure as you can be in a comedy club. My experience showed, however rough in spots. I smiled back at them and nodded. They sipped their drinks and looked at each other.
I'm quite pleased with last night's performance. I watched the tape a few times (which I'm not going to upload, as the quality is dodgy, my features obliterated by stage lights, but soon, my loves, soon), made notes for next week, when I plan to test more new material, sans the I-wanna-nail-Palin routine. Our next president is funny, but a little of her goes a long fucking way.